By Gabriel Stovall
STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. — It was April Fool’s Day when Woodland’s first-year girls lacrosse team defeated Tri-Cities for the first win in program history.
Naturally, given the expectations of the fledging program, the Lady Wolfpack wanted to be ready to combat anyone looking at the scoreboard on that day with the temptation to take the final tally as a prank.
So, according to senior Caroline Chamberlain, the team concocted an offsetting slogan to let people know that Woodland lacrosse was for real.
“No joke. We won a game,” Chamberlain said while laughing at the recollection. “It was April 1, and that was our slogan. Everybody thought we were joking when we said we’d won a game. I was in shock too. When it happened, I said, ‘am I dreaming?'”
She wasn’t. And that first win proved to be no fluke either. Woodland went out in its very next game against Meadowcreek and trounced the Lady Mustangs 17-7.
No slogan needed for that one.
“The Meadowcreek game, that was an even bigger accomplishment,” Chamberlain said during squad’s team banquet Wednesday evening. ” We beat them by 10 points. We’re usually the school getting beat by 10.”
Such is the life of a new program in a new sport with completely new athletes.
Yes, you read that right. Chamberlain said that not only were most of the 22 girls on the school’s first team first time lacrosse players, “maybe half, or at least a quarter of the team had never played any sport before.”
And Woodland lacrosse coach Heather McCormick verified her senior’s assertion.
“We’ve gotten so much participation from the girls in this sport here, and it’s been from people who probably wouldn’t have done any thing else otherwise,” McCormick said. “Some of these girls have never played a sport in their lives. So you can imagine what it was like trying to get non-athletes to look at the big picture and try to look at a girl and see where she’s gonna go or what her next move is going to be.
“That’s hard to do when they’re 16 and 17 years old, but when they’re little and they’ve been doing it for ever as an athlete, no matter what sport, it’s better.”
Hence the reason for Chamberlain’s first year success. Woodland’s midfielder was not only the best player on the school’s first team, she was college-scholarship good. On Monday Chamberlain became the first player in school history to sign a scholarship letter for lacrosse.
She’s headed to a collegiate lacrosse career at Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University, a NCAA Division III school, and member of the Southern Athletic Association conference. And here’s the cool part — Chamberlain was among that number of Woodland girls who’d never picked up a lacrosse stick before the season began.
“I’ve been playing for just this one season,” she said. “And I know it sounds really crazy. But I really am a soccer player, and have been playing since I was five. The two sports are really similar, just that with one you have a stick in your hand and the other is all with your feet. The hand-eye coordination, the reflexes, the physical build up you need to be able to run around on defense and offense is similar, so I didn’t really find it hard to switch sports.”
Not from a schematic standpoint, anyway. Chamberlain cited “personal reasons” as to why she stopped playing soccer on the high school level, but she acknowledges that it wasn’t an easy decision.
She likened leaving soccer to breaking ties with an old, close friend.
“I know it sounds all cliche, but it’s definitely tough knowing I’m not going to play soccer anymore,” she said. “It’s gotten all my sweat, blood and tears. The plan wasn’t to play lacrosse, and really, I never planned to be a college athlete.”
But her fortunes shifted when Oglethorpe lacrosse coach Marissa Giannerini got in contact with her and a chance to see her play. Giannerini expressed interest, and McCormick said the rest kind of flowed from there.
“Caroline had her heart set to attend Oglethorpe already,” McCormick said. “Everything with lacrosse all just kind of fell together. It wasn’t something we were looking for or that Caroline was expecting. She’d been playing for just four months, and (Giannerini) talked about how excited she was about getting kids who were athletic and turning them into lacrosse players.”
Such is the lot McCormick has been dealt. Also a math teacher at Woodland, McCormick said her recruiting tactics included trying to pull on kids playing other sports and snatching anyone she could find while walking in the hallways who seemed remotely interested.
Chamberlain got her invite to join the team while a student in McCormick’s math class.
“That’s just kind of the way it is when you’re a fledgling program like we are,” she said. “You’ve just gotta try to find anybody who wants to play when you’re struggling to field a team.”
McCormick nor Chamberlain believes that the struggle will be long lived, however. The sport is rapidly gaining popularity in the Southern Crescent, and teams particularly in Fayette County — think McIntosh and Starr’s Mill — are getting more and more competitive by the day.
Starr’s Mill, a Fayetteville school, also saw one of its seniors sign a scholarship to Lenoir Rhyne. Union Grove’s second-year program made it to the state tournament this season, and Ola is planning to add the sport to its athletic menu soon.
It’s all a part of the rising trajectory of the sport’s popularity on the south side. And McCormick believes the rise is just beginning.
“I like to talk to some of my friends in the business, if you will. People who run camps and leagues, and I say that ya’ll don’t understand that this is a gold mind down here,” McCormick said. “Every year I see new teams, (NCAA) Division II teams, NAIA teams popping up, and it’s giving local kids more options to play college lacrosse without having to go far. I think it’s really going to take off. It’s the kind of thing you either really love or hate. Most of our kids, I don’t think would have guessed that they’d love it so much.”
Including Chamberlain, who says she hopes her success will be an inspiration to others to help Woodland build a winning lacrosse tradition.
“It was exciting when my coach at Oglethorpe introduced me to the other girls on the team that I’d be joining next season,” Chamberlain said. “I just couldn’t believe I was the first girl from Woodland’s first team to sign. Hopefully it’ll make more girls want to come out and see what we did and help the team get better. We’ll see in a few years what’s to come. I think some great things are in store at Woodland.”